So what are the political pluses? They are less far and few in-between than you might think. There are a number of countries that have made democracy, transparency, and free and fair elections the order of the day. In fact last week President Obama hosted presidents from four of these nations – Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Malawi, and Senegal) at the White House because of the huge democratic transitions that have taken place in their countries, particularly Sierra Leone. If you remember it was not too long ago in history that this country was best known for its conflict diamond war, racked with brutal human rights atrocities such as massive limb amputations, child soldiers, and serious humanitarian crises. Today, Sierra Leone has had 2 back-to-back successful free and fair elections, and life there is marked with both improved economic and social development in addition to embracing democracy as a tradition.
On to the economic news: Here are some key areas of the economic pluses in the SSAfrica region:
The World Bank is also projecting for 2013 a collective average growth rate for SSAfrica of 5.8 per cent, possibly remaining in that range over the next 20 years (http://www.economist.com/node/21541015) http://allafrica.com/download/resource/main/main/idatcs/00051538:9f55d42de8ee71d4c25d7d57ff6e28f0.pdf
ü Collective projected GDP is expected to reach $2.6 trillion by 2020 (http://usa.gov/mccgdp);
ü Debt dropped from 82% to 59% of GDP over the last 5 years;
ü Growth sectors are agriculture; infrastructure, housing, manufacturing, ICT (SSAfrica mobile users are more than 100 million, with Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana leading the way); (http://blogitrrs.blogspot.com/2012/12/mobile-services-e-empowerment.html)
ü Africa today also remains one of the two regions of the world that has the most remaining arable land and available water resources, followed by Latin America.
Despite the economic news, and real changes on the democracy and governance front for a number of Africa countries; there is the other side of the coin – the Challenges – that need real politick analyses and solutions.
Some good news: In 1981 about 21% of the world population reported an improved quality of life; today 46 per cent of the world’s population reports an improvement in quality of life.*
Ø According to 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts, of the 925 million hungry people in the world 239 million live in sub-Saharan, 26 per cent of this figure are children (http://bit.ly/wldhunger). In West Africa alone 8.2 million children are affected by food security or are malnourished.
Ø These are staggering numbers only outpaced by the Asia and Pacific region with 578 million people facing daily hunger. These are all heart breaking stats, in spite of the world’s ability to produce enough food to feed everyone, according to FAO. Although there is a resurgence in the focus on agriculture by many African governments, past neglect in the sector over the last 30 years, by governments and international institutions, has helped lead to the current situation. Therefore the region has to play catch-up at the same time its population is growing at an enormous rate in parallel to rising food and energy prices. Remember it is not just about food availability, but nutritional and adequate food amounts.
On the rise of Jihadism, certainly, in Mali, Northern Nigeria, and Niger and other countries in the western Sahel we have seen evidence of the role and support that Al Qaeda affiliates such as AQUIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based principally in Algeria), Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (based principally in Yemen) are playing, and have played in Somalia.
Many countries in the region have porous borders and fragile security institutions which cannot adequately monitor these activities, but improvement on some of the demographics I noted above , particularly education and food security as well as stronger internal security agencies, regulations, customs and border institutions Might help.
I think we need to better understand their issues, goals, and our challenges. We do not appear to have a viable long-term strategy to deal with what we are facing, and, we need to. The reports that we are talking with the Taliban I actually think are good because we are not going to be able to understand their human cultural differences if we do not know them better. I would argue the same for the other groups. I also think part of that understanding for us is to realize that we may not agree. However, can we coexist without planning to kill each other?
I am all for fighting back against people intent on doing us harm, but the first order for me is to better understand both the challenges and the world view differences. If we do this we might be able to identify some shared values or create ones that might reduce tensions and the threat – but mutual understanding has to be part of the solution. Do we have to go to war always to win peace and security? These will be the key questions for all of in the U.S. as seek to address this growing rise in Jihadism in the region.
In concluding, the list of positives and challenges I have outlined is by no means exhaustive, but provide some strategic points for you to consider as we all try to work together to create shared values to support the region’s efforts to move forward on all fronts – democratically, politically, and economically.
*(3/4/13 - CCTVnews Africa report - Terryanne Chabet).